Lana Del Rey, it appears, has been universally deemed the saviour of modern pop, the new thrill we've all been waiting for.
But what appeared intriguing and curiously attractive in the isolated case of the "Video Games" single becomes, sustained over a longer duration, not just irritating but almost morally objectionable. Don't get me wrong: Born to Die is a skilfully wrought, carefully calculated piece of work, throughout which the singer never once steps out of character. But it's the sad, grimly depressing nature of that character which some will find offensive, as the affectless, alienated persona of "Video Games" expands into something more like a charmless, self-abasing sex-doll slithering for empty materialism.
In song after song, she offers variants on the same theme, in infatuated erotic reveries of submission to bad-boy or sugar-daddy lovers with fast cars and lots of money. "Money is the anthem of success," she sings in "National Anthem", one such exercise in monetarised carnality: "We're on a quick, sick rampage/ Wining and dining, drinking and driving/ Excessive buying overdose and dying/ On our drugs and our love and our dreams and our rage."
Likewise, in "Off to the Races", Del Rey oozes a sort of android coquettishness in her role as gangsta moll, her usual enervated delivery cranking robotically into ickle-girly mode as she reaches the hook: "Tell me you own me, give me them gold coins, I'm your little harlot, starlet." In its representation of a co-dependency of degrading dissipation, it's the musical equivalent of Brett Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero, only with nothing to add to the immediate sensation, no redemptive insight or depth.
Throughout the album, the main suggestion of moral dubiety resides in the prickly patina of noises woven into the synthetic, fatalistic backing tracks and exhausted, mock-epic orchestrations of Emile Haynie's arrangements. Then again, it could just represent the itch of addiction lurking behind the death wish of tracks such as "Dark Paradise" and "Born To Die" itself.
The same depressing scenario is played out again in "Diet Mountain Dew", "Blue Jeans" and "Million Dollar Man", with the concluding "This Is What Makes Us Girls" offering the weedy excuse that "we all look for heaven and we put love first", albeit a love tainted by materialist anomie. "Ribbons in our hair and our eyes gleamed mean, a freshman generation of degenerate beauty queens," she exults. "And you know something? They were the only friends I ever had." It's like a John Hughes teen parable corroded by self-delusion and greed.
The only cautionary hint of any downside to such a debauched lifestyle comes in "Carmen", where the "audiotune lies" of a minor pop starlet on the slide are a metaphor for her similarly synthetic life experience. "You don't want to get this way," warns Carmen, "famous and dumb at an early age." But as TV talent shows tell us, millions of young girls want just that. Born to Die offers them what is effectively a fairy-tale princess fable for our degraded times. No wonder David Cameron digs her.
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